National | Marsden Point

Calls for more talks as future for laid-off Marsden Point workers unknown

The news that the Marsden Point oil refinery will become an "import only" terminal has settled, but the ramifications of the closure are just now becoming apparent to local iwi.

Last week, shareholders overwhelmingly approved the conversion of the refinery to import only, which will result in the loss of hundreds of jobs by mid-next year.

Refining NZ told the government a year ago that it hoped to reuse its skilled workforce but Dave Milner, Patuharakeke taiao unit co-leader says it's difficult to understand or see what the solutions are because just 30 employees out of 300 are remaining.

Milner says this has had a substantial impact on the health and well-being of whānau and the community.

Milner, an environmental planner who worked on the 2014 Environmental Management Plan for Marsden Point, argues that while the perception may be that the environment will be better as a result of the closure, It's what's in that dark cloud. That silver lining is around that dark cloud of historical oil refinery operations and what that contamination looks like and what the remediation process looks like.”

More engaged

Milner says iwi involvement was not evident during the refinery's construction and as Robert Muldoon, the then Prime Minister, expanded the refinery over time with his large projects, it simply meant more jobs for whānau, which was an important component.

“In the past couple of generations, our capability and capacity and skill base has really strengthened. and we're in a better place to actually engage directly and be a part of the decision making,” he says.

The iwi has been fully involved with resource consents for the past 10 years, particularly the dredging consent, which is no longer required for operational consents, he says.

“So we've had really good technical support to be able to engage in that process and put some really tight constraints on but also have opportunities in those conditions for our future generations to have a voice at the table.”

Milner says whānau are concerned, particularly those who are still working, but that they are working to get to the table to have decision-making conversations on behalf of the whānau, hapū, and community, and to assist them through the change.

“So that's a real concern for our whānau and other community members that are working at the refinery on what their future looks like.”

Talking alternatives

Milner believes that there have been few discussions on the new biofuel and hydrogen projects and that much more work is needed, mainly with the Crown and Refining New Zealand to determine what is practical and expand the scope.

“What does a sustainable airline fuel system looks like but it needs to go broader than that. And that's the discussion that we're taking to the table,” he says

Miler says it is critical to incorporate mana whenua in any decision-making process to see what the land's future looks like, as well as the land's health and well-being, and the site's future potential.

“How can they repurpose things? There are repurposing opportunities that we would like to put forward as well. That will help support our whānau, hapū, iwi, and our wider community.